U.S. Catholic Bishops Approve
New Rules for Priests
.S. Roman Catholic bishops have issued revised guidelines for teaching and accepting candidates for the priesthood, placing additional emphasis on celibacy and formally adopting the Vatican's ban on "those who practice homosexuality" or support "gay culture."
The Program of Priestly Formation, which has governed U.S. seminaries since 1971, was last updated in 1992. The new version reflects the church's response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal by calling for greater scrutiny of men who want to be priests.
The new rules tighten admission policies and explicitly ban any applicant who has been involved in the sexual abuse of a minor or shows evidence of a sexual attraction to children.
According to the new guidelines, "thresholds pertaining to sexuality serve as the foundation for living a lifelong commitment to healthy, chaste celibacy. As we have recently seen so dramatically in the church, when such foundations are lacking in priests, the consequent suffering and scandals are devastating."
The revised Program of Priestly Formation was formally issued Aug. 4, after it was overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2005 and ratified by the Vatican last November.
The new guidelines apply to men seeking ordination in a diocese, as well as potential members of religious orders. "This edition brings about a higher level of integration of chaste, celibate living in all dimensions of priestly life," said Monsignor Edward J. Burns, executive director of the bishops' Secretariat for Vocations and
The revised guidelines are distinct from the Vatican's recently completed yearlong inspection of 158 U.S. seminaries, Burns said. Reports from the Vatican-appointed inspectors will be sent to U.S. dioceses in the near future, according to Burns. He declined to be more specific.
Under the new guidelines, candidates for the priesthood must give evidence that they have been celibate for at least two years before they can be admitted into a seminary.
In addition, each seminary must now have a "coordinated and multifaceted program" -- including regular psychological evaluations, yearly conferences and "clear and prudent guidelines" -- dedicated to helping seminarians adopt skills for celibate living.
The new guidelines also say that "with regard to the admission of candidates with same-sex experiences and/or inclinations, the guidelines provided by the Holy See must be followed."
Last November, the Vatican ruled that bishops "cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called `gay culture.'" Exceptions could be made, however, in the case of a "transitory problem" that had been "overcome" for at least three years.
Critics of the policy say the church is unfairly making gay men scapegoats for the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Burns said "you can be sure that the bishops clearly need to raise the bar on men who suffer from homosexual inclinations."
"There's a concern about men with homosexual inclinations, if they are of a more permanent nature-- for a man who enters into priestly formation, he's going to enter into an all-male environment. ... What kind of tension does that put on him? What kind of tension does that put on the seminary?"
Burns added that renouncing sexual activity may be of lesser consequence for gay men. "There's some question as to whether a man sacrifices as much when he's
not sacrificing a wife and children."
Christian Music Grows Up, and Sales Follow
Kevin Gallagher, guitar-maker, musician and self-professed born-again Christian, remembers when religious friends first tried to push Christian rock music on him, in the 1980s.
"They would say, `Hey, listen to this, and make sure you pay attention to the words, because that's what's important,'" recalled Gallagher, of Saylorsburg, Pa. "I always said, `I can't get past the lack of quality and production.'
"But that's changed now. There's not a CD being produced by any Christian label right now that I'd be afraid to hand to anybody," said Gallagher, 46, once the lead guitarist for a now-defunct band called "The Suspects."
For the second straight year, Gallagher was planning to attend Saturday's (Sept. 2) "Revelation Generation" concert on farm grounds in Kingwood Township, N.J., with his wife and four children. The concert, scheduled to go on regardless of weather, was expected to attract at least 8,000 people.
"Revelation Generation" is one of many Christian rock concerts popping up around the country in recent years as Internet publicity and better productions have boosted the genre of Christian music beyond its original evangelical base.
Christian music as a whole -- a broad category including Christian rock, Christian pop, gospel and "praise and worship" music, among others – has become the sixth most popular type of music in the United States. Based on sales, it is behind only rock, hip-hop, R&B, country and pop music, and is ahead of jazz and classical, according to the Gospel Music Association.
Through four decades of growth and the popularity of singers like Bill Gaither, Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman, Christian music still accounts for a small percentage of total music sales--about 6 percent--according to Nielsen SoundScan, an industry group.
But recent young Christian rock groups like Relient K, Switchfoot, Further Seems Forever, Newsboys and MXPX have highlighted the growth of Christian music sales by 11.6 percent in the first half of the year, compared with the first half of 2005, at a time the total number of albums sold nationally declined 4.2 percent.
Why the increase in mainstream popularity? Industry experts credit high production quality and music from Christian artists that attract people who care about more than just lyrics.
That's different than in the past, when Christian listeners were so happy to have popular songwriters on their spiritual level that "as long as it sounded somewhat like what was going on in the (mainstream popular) culture, but talked about Jesus right out front, it was considered OK," said Tom Tenney, who oversees a Christian rock channel for XM Satellite Radio.
And their Christian fan bases, once appalled that singers like Amy Grant tried to appeal to mainstream audiences, have become more patient with such "crossover" acts, said Deborah Evans Price of Nashville, Tenn., who writes about Christian music for Billboard magazine.
"Over the years," she said, "people have really come around to the fact that the primary reason most artists make Christian music is to spread the gospel, and that if they can spread it to the wider audience, that's a good thing, not a bad thing."
While many songs sung by Christian rock artists don't mention Jesus or salvation, many do have lines designed for Christian tastes. Relient K, in "Be My Escape," sings "I know to live, you must give your life away." Newsboys, in "He Reigns," sing about Christians in Africa, Asia and South America, "all God's children singing Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, he reigns."
Last year's concert drew about 4,000 fans. Organizers expected at least twice that crowd this time due to better publicity -- more than 100 churches have helped spread the word and are coordinating trips -- and the June rainout of "Creation Festival," a top Christian music concert held almost annually in Pennsylvania since 1979.
Ukrainian Baptists Rebuild Homes Devastated by Katrina
For the last five summers, the Madison Baptist Association in Huntsville, Ala., has dispatched teams to Philadelphia to help fix up the houses and churches of Ukrainian immigrants there. This summer, the Ukrainian churches returned the favor.
About 40 members of six Ukrainian Baptist churches loaded up and journeyed south to Pearlington, Miss., to support the Madison Association’s efforts to renovate hurricane-devastated homes and churches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“It’s a true partnership,” said John Long, missionary at Madison Association in Huntsville, which has helped build or renovate three Ukrainian churches in the Philadelphia area. “We helped them and they’re now helping us.”
After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast a year ago, the Madison Association adopted Pearlington, one of the hardest-hit towns on the coast. Baptists from Huntsville have since made 17 trips to the devastated town--tearing down, rebuilding, and renovating homes.
“We scheduled the Ukrainian guys to do the framing and roofing on six houses, and then our guys came in and did sheetrock and finishing work,” Long said.
The Mississippi conditions were a shock to the Ukrainian mission team, who acquired a taste for sweet iced tea and southern fried chicken during their short stay in Pearlington.
“John came to Philadelphia and did a presentation for us,” said Filip Moshkovsky, youth leader at Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church in Crum Lynn, Pa., and organizer of the mission trip.
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Indian Muslim Leaders Issue Fatwa Against Life Insurance
An influential Islamic seminary in India has issued a religious edict telling Muslims not to take out life insurance policies because they violate Islamic law as a "sort of gambling."
The fatwa has evoked mixed reactions from the Shiite and Sunni sects in the country. Clerics at the Darul Uloom seminary--a Sunni institution--in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh said Muslims should not invest in life insurance because "life is given by Allah, and to insure it or assure it is a crime in the eyes of Allah."
Maulana Shahid Rehan, a senior cleric at the seminary, told the media Aug. 30 that "a true Muslim should never, ever go for life insurance policies. This is against the wishes of Allah."
The edict from the seminary said: "Insurance is not permissible because it is a sort of gambling. Moreover, it also involves interest money, which is illegal under Shariah," or Islamic law.
The edict was issued in early August by Darul Ifta, the supreme body in the town of Deoband, following a query from Saleem Chisti, a Muslim resident of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state. Chisti said he had been approached by a private company to become an insurance agent and to buy insurance policies for himself and his wife. "I thought it prudent to ask Deoband before agreeing to the proposal," said Chisti, a Sunni Muslim.
While a majority of the Sunni Muslims in the state have generally welcomed the edict, Hafeez Nomani, a devout Sunni and the son of a co-founder of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, called the fatwa "unwarranted and a most regressive step by the (clerics), who seem to have no understanding of the rapid changes taking place around the globe."
Nomani added that the fatwa was "nothing but a veiled attack on the secular order of India that only underlines the obstinate attitude of the clergy."
Shiite Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have rejected the fatwa, calling it a "non-issue" for their community. They say the decree is not binding on them because Darul Uloom is a Sunni institution. Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, a Shiite cleric, said insurance is not illegal for Shiite Muslims because there is no edict against it.